Open Letter to Baofeng Users

With the influx of inexpensive (as low as $10.00 USD) radios from China, there are now more hams on the air than ever. A lot of people have even credited Baofeng for saving ham radio. I used to be one of those people. Baofengs offer an extremely inexpensive entry point, and can be found all over.

Unfortunately, what many hams don’t seem to understand is that many of these Chinese made radios are produced at such a low cost by cutting corners. Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for?” This leads to a sub-par performer. By taking just one of these radios apart (or even going as far as looking at the schematic), one can quickly see what’s missing. A good front end on the receiver is the first (and most important) thing that is missing. In low population communities throughout the country, this might be acceptable. In most communities though, the lack of selectivity means radio’s squelch  will start squawking every time the operator passes by a credit card machine or clothes drier.

What else is missing? Well, these radios are not capable of pre-emphasis or de-emphasis. For a detailed explanation of this process read this article. For those of us that aren’t technically astute, the emphasis circuit basically effects the volume of the transmission. A lot of operators using his/her cheapie radio, don’t know about this circuit. Heck, I’ve been a ham for over a decade and didn’t learn about it until I really started to wonder why there so many differences in audio over on the WIN System.

Another growing problem with the Baofeng is the type of operator it attracts. Can this be blamed on the radio? No. Is it fair to blame the radio for attracting low quality operators? No. Are all operators that use Baofengs and other low-tier radios bad operators? No. However, for whatever reason, Baofengs have opened the door for low quality operators to get on the air and be heard. Maybe it is the low investment cost (cost of the test and radio is now less than $40.00 USD). Maybe it is the vast availability of codeplugs, which takes away the need to know basic things and terms such as: input frequency, output frequency, PL (CTCSS) tone, offset, simplex, and scan. After all, there is something to be said about building your very own codeplug. Much like the popularization and easily affordable boon of CB in the last century, I fear ham radio is going down the very same path.

One of the best analogies I hear on the radio is that the Baofeng is much like one’s first car in high school or other younger years. For the first few months or year, it is the hottest ride in town. A real pimp my ride special. One’s able to pick up lots of babes, get around, and stay relatively safe. But, after a while, one realizes that his/her ride isn’t that impressive after all. The babes stop asking for rides, and other friends are starting to get nicer vehicles without a rusted out frame. The Baofeng is the same thing.

Yes, the Baofeng gets you on the air. Yes, it keys up the local machines. Yes, you can talk to all of your buddies on the local club machine. Yes, it will (for the most part) stay on frequency, but are you really getting the best ham radio experience? Is the squawking squelch inside of the supermarket and that ensuing battle of up/down volume fun? Is the lack of adjacent channel rejection worth it when you’re trying to demo ham radio to a friend worth it when your friend says the voice reliability is better on a cell? Think about it. To me, that is the biggest tragedy.

Think of all the licensed hams lost to the Baofeng. Either he/she runs into an operator on the air that refuses to talk to him because they clearly must be stupid for choosing a Baofeng. Or they find ham radio to be a poor performer, and they don’t bother with a Yaesu or Icom or Kenwood ham grade radio to learn any different.

Bottom line is this: if you don’t have to hear the poor quality of your own voice and you live in the middle of nowhere, a Baofeng can be a really slick option. The radios are cheap. They do transmit. They do make your voice heard. However, if you’re in an environment with a lot of RF floating around (think Vegas… think Washington… think Toronto… think New York), these radios are not great options. They frankly don’t have the guts to handle the mojo needed to avoid the noise.

For these reasons, I have chosen to ban Baofeng radios on my repeaters. This isn’t a Motorola elitism thing. This isn’t a, “You’re stupid for buying a Baofeng” game. I own Baofengs. I own my repeater and the users on my repeater all have similar audio levels. We’re all running ham or public safety grade gear. All of our rigs have similar audio circuitry that avoids the constant volume adjustments. I’m a professional organist. Simply put, I don’t need anymore workouts for my fingers.

Some will still argue that this is elitism. I argue that Baofengs go against the very reason why the F.C.C. allows ham radio to exist.

Simply put, these radios do not allow for “advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art” (Part 97.1).

I assure you that my reasons are purely technical, and not a form of elitism.

36 thoughts on “Open Letter to Baofeng Users

  1. Amateur: (adj) engaging or engaged in without payment; nonprofessional.

    Nonprofessional. That says it all.

    Restricting the usage of a radio brand, based off dollar figures, and the inconvenience of using your volume knob too much is one of the problems with HAM today, and why people are discouraged to get on the air. The internals to a Baofeng, Wouxun, Puxing, are loosely based off of the Kenwood.

    I can tell you that my aging Alinco sounds like garbage compared to my Baofeng-because it is older. Using your logic, I should continue to settle for the aging technology, in lieu of your interpretation of a technical fault, that presents an inconvenience?

    Learning how to get on the air, and talking is learning. Educating these new HAM’s that the Baofeng is the gateway drug to their Yaesu 8800, which brings them steadily downhill and broke, license upgrades and then antenna theory… Technology has changed, it is now cheaper, and the advent of the “disposable” radio is here. It’s just like computers, just like cars, just like any product. There is the obvious entry level, medium, and luxury. You’re not buying a KX3 as your first radio…

    I can appreciate your frustration, but I believe you are too subjective. I can make a kit radio with a soldering iron, and it would sound like a Campbell’s soup can. Is that ok to use because it isn’t a commercially printed, physically aesthetic Baofeng?

    I believe the responsibility lies on us to educate these new HAMS, deal with a little interference, and move the field forward. What they are doing is exactly 97.1, because the act of PTT is learning the skill. If the individual does not have the constitution to want to learn, that is a larger problem and we are all doomed.

    1. Kc2WUG: Thanks for participating in the discussion, and keeping it professional. I don’t understand how you believe my logic says that it is better to “settle for the aging technology.” Could you explain this to me? There are tons of great options out there. I currently use an APX-7000, a Yaesu FT-8900, an XTL-2500, and an XPR-5500 (well I have a lot more stuff I don’t really use). I know the 8900 has been around for a while, but I wouldn’t exactly call it old technology. It’s still on the market brand new today.

      I also don’t understand how an 8800 (with a price tag in the $300.00 range) makes someone broke. In the scheme of things, it’s not that expensive. It’s cheaper than season tickets to an NHL, NFL, or MLB team. It’s cheaper than a hunting weekend with “the boys.” It’s cheaper than doing cars as a hobby.

      1. N4NJJ, with all due respect, not everyone is in your economic situation. Many, many people cannot afford season tickets to major league sports or can do car restoration as a hobby.

        Yes, I started off with a Baofeng and still use them (I now have two) regularly for VHF/UHF repeater contacts, emergency simplex, and to listen to NOAA weather radio. But I really wanted to do HF so I started experimenting with some of the remote radio options online and finally, about 6 months in, I bought a used Yaesu FT-817 on ebay.

        It was a major investment, even buying used, and obviously a gamble. There is no way I ever would have made this investment if I hadn’t had the chance to start off with my Baofeng. But I’m glad I did it.

        So yes, your post does feel like economic elitism to me. For many people an investment of $100-150 (to buy test prep materials, to take the licensing exam, buy a baofeng, buy a spare battery, get some decent antennas (most of us want a dual-band mag mount for the car and a better portable antenna to replace the rubber duck), required cables, connectors, etc, is a major investment. But I’m glad I did it and it did motivate me to scrimp and save to buy the used yaesu. But please don’t mock those of us who do struggle economically because by doing so you are hurting the hobby.

        Lastly, how exactly do you plan to ban people from your repeater? Very curious about how that will work…

        1. It’s called requiring an MDC tone (and the right ones) to access the repeater. It’s no different than TRBO, Dstar, P25, Fusion, or NXDN. I guess any and all repeater owners who choose to run anything other than analog FM must be economic elitists by your standards… which is fine… you don’t need to use our machines. =]

  2. I agree with some of your points, and while I understand that it’s your repeater and your funds that keep the repeater running, I’m very much like you. I personally am a Yaesu snob, my elmer was one so I became one. But when I take my kids to the community pool, or am outside doing yard work, my VX-8R is safely inside, while my Baofeng UV-5RA is on my hip. In my local community there is no repeater owner who has taken the same stance on Chinese branded radios, but we’re I to be in your neck of the woods, I would effectively be unable to enjoy my hobby while gardening not wanting to risk a $350+ investment.

    Again, understood that it’s your repeater, this is just my two pesos

    1. Cjris6: Thanks for participating in this dialogue in a professional and adult manner. I really like your points; however, I do believe that life takes risk. We buy things to use them and find entertainment out of them. We don’t buy a car just to keep it in the garage because of the “what if” factor. Every time we get on the road, there is a risk of an accident or hijacking. But I do understand why you think that way.

  3. Cheap is invading everywhere. 3d cad. Musical instruments. Motorcycles and of road dirt toys. Movie making. So much has become an order of magnitude cheaper so that the talent to exploit many of these arts just can’t get much income. Any moron can buy Garage Band and have a million dollar studio. Ditto the new crop of digital cameras. A $3500 camera DOES hold a candle to the $350,000 tool from 30 years ago.
    So too ham radio.

    1. Kevin of Waterford, thank you for visiting and helping move this dialogue forward. Unfortunately, you are correct. We live in a cheap world. Your point about Garage Band is right on, sir. Just listen to modern pop music. I know a lot of people say: “Rap is crap.” Well, at least in the old days you had to produce your OWN beats using pretty sophisticated (even by today’s standards) MIDI technology. With Garage Band, that isn’t the case anymore.

  4. Interesting perspective. However, I think another perspective can be the hobby can be expensive. If we want younger people to get in the hobby, let them get what they can reasonably afford. It would be up to us to “Elmer” them and teach them the differences. Should you in effect ban them, you give no incentive for people to join the “club”. I can agree that different radios have different qualities. Even with amateur gear. as they graduate up to general and can get on hf bands they will have to get higher quality equipment to do that. I have a personal preference to kenwood and Motorola and even own a beofeng for convenience for my work truck as a throw away radio. Prefer to lose that vs an xts2500. But what next, you gonna ban anytone or other models that are mobile cheap Chinese radios? There is a generation gap between hams today. If you have an expectation that a 12 year old Boy Scout gets his badge and want to test for tech to have $200+ to buy a radio your expectations are unrealistic to introduce a young crowd. I will concede that it is your repeater, and do not know if open or closed repeater. As the owner, you shall set expectations. But remember, social media moves fast. You could find that banning from a repeater may lead to you talking to yourself on it.

  5. Sounds like you (and others) got one bad one, or bought a fake model from a company (Foscam) that purposely assembles and sells these fakes for a few dollars cheaper than the official models. They use official named models like UV-5R (which was discontinued in 2014) but somehow continue to still see new firmware and new UV5R radios being sold all over, this is due to the fakes flooding the market. They also make their own unofficial model names like UV-5RTP, BF-F9 V2+, and various others. Essentially if it has TP or F9 in the name it is always a fake. The ones that use the official names are a little more difficult to track down, the easiest method is read from the radio via Chirp, and go to the Other Settings and look at the firmware version. Official models use firmware versions BFB, BFS, or N5R (or B82 for the UV82X). Fakes will use whatever else programmed by Foscam.
    Foscam (aka ShenZhen Foscam) buys quality control failed boards and parts, assembles them into empty shells bought in bulk, occasionally modifies the firmware to their own version (which is how there is a “2015” firmware on a radio discontinued in 2014), sends them to their American warehouse in Texas, and then sells them for a few dollars cheaper in North America. To make it worse, they illegally use Baofengs FCC Part 15 Compliance and even Part 90 certification on their illegal models. They even illegally filed for their own Part 90 certification on a fake model, by putting official parts that all pass quality control inside of a case with their fake name on it (BF F9 V2+). Once the return address was traced from the FCC letters, it goes back to ShenZhen Foscam instead of Baofeng.
    Where people see Baofeng on the case, they automatically (and falsely) assume that they are all the same, come from the same company and lump them all together. Some are even so thick skulled to refuse to believe there are fake Baofengs using whatever faulty logic they choose. Yet would they also lump the fake Vaesu with official Yaesu models? Would they lump the fake Icon or Icom models with the official Icom models? Does it need to have a label called Baofong or Beifeng in order to be recognized as a fake by those with a thick skull? I’ve found they don’t care, they lump them all together seeing Baofeng as all the same, yet somehow recognize that Vaesu is a fake (I roll my eyes constantly at these idiots). Failing to understand the fact that there are fake Baofengs, and of all the models tested on spectrum analyzers and other equipment, the fakes fail 99% of the time, versus the official models fail less than 2% of the time. No they are not perfect and the lack of filtering can be an annoyance. In my travels to various big cities (more recently Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Orlando, etc), the intermod and squelch breaks on any of my 5 (official) Baofengs are minimal and rare, even 20 stories up in the open where you would think they would pick up every little stray RF signal, but they don’t. It happens more often with the official 5R antenna, and less often with the better upgraded V85 (sold with the official 8W models), or the NA701 or NA771 antennas.

  6. Hi. Unbelievable, now after reading all that I’m about to Google Baofeng and similar. Actually I already have a vhf/uhf Chinese type because the preferred option was out of reach. The transmit audio is better than my alnico. Well…. so here’s the thing. After finding that $10 radio and hopefully the $400 other one mentioned ( wow that’s cheap it’s more like $20,000 here) The fun starts with looking at how to improve sibilance, reduce intermod, build bandpass filters, etc etc. DIY door opens with good old analogue complimented performance improvement. Fancy that…that’s so very HAM.

  7. There are plenty of uses for the radio bands currently earmarked for amateur radio. If you would like to see those uses put into action, then by all means keep amateur radio exclusive and expensive. Inexpensive entry points allow this hobby to grow and evolve. Things that are incapable of growth and evolution die.

    You can do what you want with your repeaters, but you will probably be happiest by keeping them private. That’s the easiest way you can exclude people who have your disapproval.

    73s

  8. > “Think of all the licensed hams lost to the Baofeng.”

    What about all the hams that were gained /because/ of Baofeng? Like me. I didn’t want to throw down a couple hundred dollars on a radio when I didn’t even know if I was really interested it in. And to be honest, I know plenty of people who use them who sound absolutely fine – maybe you had a bad one? Once I had the UV-5R I eventually worked my way up to an FT-8800R for the truck and an FT-920 at home for HF.

  9. Great discussion, as a club when we recruit part of our job is helping people decide what to get for their needs and means. I tell many people that yes the Chinese radios work, but for the low cost comes a lot of trades offs. I then also ppint them toward the Japanese models and which have affordable models from the last decade they’d enjoy for the added cost without parting 300 plus dollars. I have yet to try the mobiles I love my FT8900. So while they Chinese radios are troublesome although the Wouxon seems to be slightly better with regards to the receiver. As a community we should try to be helpful to others, we all know some who just have nothing positive to say and then there are others who are willing to answer questions and even help Elmer new hams. That seems to be the key thing in our hobby thats sometimes is missing is guiding others when they’re inexperienced.

  10. I’m ex Royal Corps of Signals, I can whoop most Hams backside at morse including Russian Morse code, my antenna theory is second to none, I’m a fully qualified time served electronics engineer in both RF digital and analogue systems, its been my job since I left the forces over 30 years ago ….what matters in communications is being heard, getting through…. if you can talk to somebody, you’ve got through. it works !!!

    I’ve operated many different transmitters from 50 milliwatts up to many hundreds of thousands of megawatts, costing not very much, to eyewateringly expensive second home type prices just for the power supply…..It doesn’t matter what radio you’re packing as long as it works… its fine..
    ..
    None of you are after all transmitting in Dolby 5.1 surround sound on any radio….So what you’re saying is you don’t like cheap radios, because the audio isn’t up to your standard…..you should be welcoming Baofeng Hams with open arms, they might rattle the elitists who swear by Yaesu or “fill in blank expensive radio” because their audio doesn’t have the dynamic range, but you CAN hear them, I’d like to know how you are going to ban a Baofeng from your repeaters ? ask them to stop ? and ask them to stop again if they don’t ? switch them off when a baofeng hits them or you suspect its a baofeng ? You may as well pull the plug on all your repeaters, because repeaters are setup to assist radio amateurs communicate and are run to help the hobby not hinder it.

    I’ve kitted out an entire schools with UV5R’s they work perfectly, right across the campus, no squelch problems, no breakthrough, and we regularly walk past many different types of RF emitters, the squelch stays off until somebody calls….I’ve even communicated from a mountain top in North Wales to a repeater in South Wales 175 miles away on 5 watts, they heard me, I heard them….problem ?

    The radio might be lacking certain high end luxuries, but let’s face it it works….and that is what matters not the badge it sports

  11. It is your repeater and you are well within your right to operate it the way you see fit. You really have no need to explain yourself to the masses, but I commend you for doing so. The FCC says you can van anyone you want for any reason, so you are legally within your rights as well.

    As a fellow repeater owner/operator, I understand and agree with your thoughts on the subject. No, I won’t necessarily impose a similar restriction upon users of my repeaters, but your argument regarding the need of the operator to understand what is happening when he/she transmitscand why has a sound basis. This is one reason why I like 900 MHz so much – since Alinco stopped marketing their portable, one must once again find commercial gear and modify it in some way to get on the band. It takes some technical kniw-how. Too many Amateurs are becoming “appliance operators” which is doing themselves and Amateur Radio a huge disservice.

  12. Please explain how you intend to enforce this (you can’t).

    If you’re looking to communicate with “sophisticated users” using “professional gear” I encourage you to apply for a dedicated, commercial license for a particular frequency and keep all of your comms there.

    Amateur radio is a *hobby*. We do this for fun. Don’t be a dick and spoil the fun.

      1. Right. So only Motorola then.

        We give out Baofengs to every student that passes the exam. Your arguments are plain silly. Smoke a fatty and relax, this is just a hobby.

          1. Yaesu FT-60. A solid, handheld radio. I guess I won’t have the privilege.

            Congrats on making yourself famous on the Internet, tho.

  13. Feel free to steer those “Baofeng, Wouxon, Retevis, etc.” hams our way; all comers welcome! In fact, our community donates these nasty little rigs to new hams as inducements.

  14. Sorry if this has been covered, but two things. How are you banning them specifically on your repeater? Just as a policy, but nothing is really stopping people from using them?

    More importantly, one HUGE thing I think you’re missing here (and a pet peeve of mine) is it’s not just “low quality” operators, it’s ZERO quality operators, e.g. unlicensed operators. So many people now are just buying these $20 radios on eBay or Amazon and not getting a license. At least once a week I hear about this online. It’s growing. Half of them don’t even know you need a license, or what ham radio even is.

    It’s the same old story I hear over and over, “Oh, a buddy of mine let me borrow one of his radios when we were in the desert and he loves them, so I bought one. They work great! I was tired of CB.” or it’s “Hey, how do I work this radio? I don’t understand it” or “Is this a good model?” followed by my question, “Did you get your license?” followed by their response “What’s that?”

    If you want to do the ham community a favor before 2M/440 turns into CB radio quality operators, please get the education out there that not just on quality of the equipment, but the legality.

    Thanks, great article btw, and I agree! They have their purpose, but it’s not ideal.

    1. Mike G., thank you for kind words. I think I finally spoke up (got burned too many times on my own machine), and I rattled a lot of people. It really isn’t even a ban of Baofengs. It is a complete blockage of Baofengs. They can’t do MDC… so my repeater requires MDC for access. It’s no different than switching to DMR or P25 or Dstar or Fusion to escape the mess that has become analog FM. Out here in the desert, I hear people all the time illegally using ham frequencies. Particularly these guys that go to the middle of nowhere (so they think) to do races. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. In certain crimes (obviously NOT THIS — before some appliance operator jumps on me for that), you will still get severe penalties. Ignorance is not a legal defense.

      I didn’t even think of that.

      Maybe I’ll have to pen a 2.0 edition.

      1. Oh yeah! I was thinking the other day all the real hams who respect the FCC and the frequencies may just have to move to digital. Fusion seams to be taking off around my parts thanks to the incentives they are offering for clubs.

  15. Say what you will…you can HAVE an opinion…however your system is one I will never frequent even though I have what you deem to be an acceptable radio.

    I get where you are coming from, but this elitist attitude needs to go. What if a Baofeng is all you can afford?? You use what you use and make the best of it.

    I have 2 Baofengs and they both work. They sound good. NEVER had a bad audio report. EVER. I don’t think it’s the best rig ever but it gets the job done a large amount of the time.

    I also have Icom radios as well and they work as well too.

    I understand your reasoning, but this is a way to scare people away from the hobby. If all you can afford is a Baofeng I’d rather it be used than sit idle. I’d rather it be a stepping stone to other things as well but it’s not as horrible as you say.

    1. I’d like to disagree. By your logic, all of the repeater owners that put up DMR, P25, Dstar, NXDN, and Fusion boxes are elitist, too. If all you can afford is a Baofeng that isn’t capable of those modes, you surely must be an elitist.

  16. While every repeater owner has a right to ban ANY user for ANY reason — announcing a ban of a specific brand of radio, with no way to know who is or isn’t using that brand of radio is just plain stupid. There is quite simply no way that he or anyone else could tell is I accessed the repeater using my ancient Kenwood HT, my slightly less ancient Heath HT, any of my Yaesu, Kenwood, or Wouxun mobiles or OMG one of my BaoFeng HTs (all of which meet the FCC spectral purity standards and all of which have audio on a par with any of the major name brands).

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